7 min read

Wake Up To Politics - March 8, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, March 8, 2018. 243 days until Election Day 2018. 971 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inboxes at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

Will Trump formalize tariffs today?

White House aides are reportedly uncertain whether or not President Trump's proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum will be formally imposed today. According to numerous news outlets, a 3:30 p.m. signing ceremony in the Roosevelt Room was being planned for today, and steel and aluminum workers were being flown to Washington to flank the president at the event.

But new reports suggest that the process has been slowed down again, and a formal announcement may not be coming today after all. According to Bloomberg, the ceremony is now "likely" to be delayed "to allow more time to prepare the legal documents." According to CNN, Trump aides were giving different answers Wednesday night as to whether or not the signing event was still on. "I'm not totally sure," one aide told the network, adding that an "all-nighter" was likely to attempt to draft the documents in time.

This scramble is reminiscent of Trump's initial announcement of the tariffs last week, when reports were unclear all day as to whether the president would roll out them out, until he did so at a meeting with industry executives to the surprise of his own staff and allies on Capitol Hill.

Trump, at least, seems to think the event is still taking place. "Looking forward to 3:30 P.M. meeting today at the White House," he tweeted this morning. "We have to protect & build our Steel and Aluminum Industries while at the same time showing great flexibility and cooperation toward those that are real friends and treat us fairly on both trade and the military."

However, the White House public schedule does not include the meeting mentioned in the president's tweet.

Republican leaders in Congress have publicly announced their opposition to the tariffs; amid the uncertainty, they are continuing a last-ditch effort to change the president's mind. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has urged Trump to take a "more surgical and more targeted" approach, tapping House Ways and Means Committee chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) to negotiate changes to Trump's plan with the White House. "We are extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war and are urging the White House to not advance with this plan," a Ryan spokeswoman said in a statement. "The new tax reform law has boosted the economy and we certainly don’t want to jeopardize those gains."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters this week that the tariffs "could send the economy in the wrong direction," adding that "there is a lot of concern among Republican senators that this could sort of metastisized into a larger trade war." Meanwhile, 107 House Republicans, nearly half of the GOP conference, sent a letter to President Trump on Wednesday expressing "deep concern" about the tariffs and urging Trump to minimize their impact.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that "carve-outs for Canada and Mexico based on national security" are possible. Hours later, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, a key advocate for the tariffs, told Fox Business News that the proclamation would have a clause delaying implementation of the tariffs on Canada and Mexico by 30 days as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is being renegotiated. Such exemptions would somewhat blunt the impact of the tariffs, a reversal from Trump's insistence that U.S. allies, as well as trade adversaries like China, be affected.

According to Axios, even as Republican lawmakers lobby him to move slowly and rethink his decision, Trump "is impatient and wants to act." The report said that part of the president's pressuring his aides to act quickly is due to the Pennsylvania special election next week; Trump hopes the move will help steel and coal workers in the district and provide a boost to Republican Rick Saccone's flailing campaign.

Russia probe: The latest

Two big reports on the Russia probe yesterday...

Trump discussed Mueller interviews with witnesses: Special counsel Robert Mueller has learned of "two conversations in recent months in which President Trump asked key witnesses about matters they discussed with investigators," according to the New York Times. Trump reportedly urged White House counsel Don McGahn to deny a previous Times report that he told investigators of being ordered by the president to fire Mueller; McGahn refused to issue a denial, reminding Trump that he had ordered the special counsel's dismissal. In addition, the president asked former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus about his interview with Mueller's team in an Oval Office meeting in December, inquiring of the investigators had been "nice."

These episodes show that Trump is ignoring his lawyers' advice to "avoid doing anything publicly or privately that could create the appearance of interfering with it," although experts told the Times that the interactions "most likely did not rise tot eh level of witness tampering." In addition to probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, Mueller is also examining whether Trump has attempted to obstruct his investigation.

Mueller gathers evidence on Seychelles meeting: Special counsel Mueller has gathered evidence that a secret meeting held in Seychelles just before President Trump's inauguration "was an effort to establish a back channel between the incoming administration and the Kremlin," according to the Washington Post. The January 2017 meeting was attended by Blackwater founder Erik Prince, an informal adviser to the Trump transition team and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos; Lebanese-American George Nader, an adviser to the United Arab Emirates; and Kirill Dmitriev, an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The Post reports that a witness cooperating with Mueller told his team that "the meeting was set up in advance so that a representative of the Trump transition could meet with an emissary from Moscow to discuss future relations between the countries." Nader is known to be cooperating with the special counsel's investigation. The report contradicts Prince's testimony before the House Intelligence Committee last year; he told lawmakers that he had not expected to meet Dmitriev during the Seychelles trip.

Plus... Happening today: Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is scheduled to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee today. According to CNN, he could be one of the last witnesses to testify in the panel's Russia investigation, as GOP committee leaders "are signaling they're ready to end the investigative phase of their Russia probe and move on to writing the final report," even as Democrats point to a list of witnesses they still hope to speak with.

The Rundown

PA-18: Republicans are "bracing for an embarrassing defeat" in next week's Pennsylvania special election for the U.S. House, Politico reports.

Trump appointees: More than 2,475 political appointees have joined the federal government since the Trump administration began. According to the New York Times, that includes nearly 260 former Trump campaign workers, at least 187 former lobbyists, and 125 people tied to conservative think tanks.

VA: Weakened by a series of controversies and inspector general probes, Secretary David Shulkin's days atop the Department of Veterans Affairs may be "coming to an end," per the Daily Beast.

TX-SEN: Sen. Rafael "Ted" Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Robert "Beto" O'Rourke (D-TX) formally received their party's nominations on Tuesday for this year's U.S. Senate race in Texas, and the race has already begun in earnest. The first line of attack? Nicknames.

Russia probe: In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee last week, outgoing White House communications director Hope Hicks said that she could not access all of her recent correspondence because one of her email accounts was hacked, NBC News scooped.

Inside the West Wing: Several White House aides have been "terminated or reassigned for issues related to their security clearances," per ABC News.

Forest Service: Tony Tooke, who has served as chief of the U.S. Forest Service since September, is stepping down amid allegations of sexual misconduct, PBS reports.

Daniels vs. Trump: President Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen secretly obtained a temporary restraining order last week to prevent adult film actress Stormy Daniels from discussing her alleged affair with Trump. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Wednesday that Trump's case against Sanders "has already been won in arbitration."

Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), no stranger to political sex scandals, to reports on the Stormy Daniels news: "Let's reverse the shoes. If it was a Democratic president and hush money had been paid in the campaign, would there be a series of hearings going on? I think you could probably point to a fair number of indicators that suggest there would be... This isn't ancient history. This is recent history. And it's part of a larger pattern on this front. It's not a one-off. So I think it's troubling at many different levels and we ought to call it such."


Trump: At 11:30 a.m., the President holds a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room. At 2 p.m., he hosts a roundtable with lawmakers and video game industry leaders in the Roosevelt Room "to discuss violent video-game exposure and the correlation to aggression and desensitization in children," according to the White House.

The meeting is expected to be attended by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Reps. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) and Martha Roby (R-AL), as well as the heads of Take-Two Interactive, the Media Research Center, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, the Entertainment Software Association, ZeniMax Media, and the Parents Television Council. At a summit with mayors last week, Trump pointed to "the level of violence on video games" as one reason behind the U.S.' high number of mass shootings, and the issue may be part of the president's expected package of gun control measures in response to the Parkland shooting.

Senate: The upper chamber convenes at 9:30 a.m. Following Leader remarks, the Senate will resume consideration of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which rolls back banking regulations instituted by the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010.

House: The House meets at 9 a.m. The chamber is scheduled to consider the Satisfying Energy Needs and Saving the Environment Act, "to establish the bases by which the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency shall issue, implement, and enforce certain emission limitations and allocations for existing electric utility steam generating units that convert coal refuse into energy."

*All times Eastern